Ann Hall describes the frustration of training employees to use sit/stand desks

Behaviour change is difficult. We all know what we would like to do, but remembering and following through can often be a challenge. It’s especially difficult when you have to change the behaviour of employees and sometimes it feels easier to train a family pet.

I rolled out a walking program where one of the hardest obstacles was getting people to remember to use their wearable fitness tracking devices. Every week I heard the drama of people forgetting, washing and losing their device as well as excuses as to why exercise was impossible.

The employees who set morning reminders to use the devices and pre-scheduled their walking times were the most successful. I don’t necessarily think they wanted it more, I think the way they realistically integrated it into their schedule was just more effective for them. It essentially became part of their daily routine.

Changing a working position from sit to stand or sit/stand is a change from how many of us have worked our entire lives. The concept is simple, but getting employees to buy-in on this notion and use the desk in the best possible way can be a challenge. Based on 16 years working with sit/stand desks there is one thing I am sure of – you cannot just give a person a new desk, walk away and expect them to use it the way you intended.

The question is how do we get the majority of employees motivated to use the desks properly and help us to achieve compliance? I recommend a focus on these three things to improve your compliance rates:

Training

Employees need to be intrinsically motivated to stand and sit. Sounds easy, but why people would want to use a sit/stand desk is very diverse. I use a worksheet to help users define their own motivation and goals after we identify all the benefits that they could realize. Having more energy and more comfort through reduced muscle fatigue can usually be felt right away so this is to be emphasized. It is also good to highlight better circulation and improved metabolism, and that it is easier to manage anxiety and stress.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of employees who mention calorie burn and are highly motivated by it. The last thing any corporate wellness professional wants is an employee eating more high fat, high sugar junk food, thinking they have burned off enough calories standing. If calorie burn is what motivates them so be it, but please help them be realistic about their expectations.

Training on static postures and the key benefits of alternating your position throughout the day is really important so they know how to properly use their desk. If you swap all day sitting for all day standing you probably won’t have more energy or comfort.

Other benefits of using a sit/stand desk, such as being able to adjust the desk to better achieve a neutral posture, are good to cover. This includes defining what this means for users in both the sitting and standing positions. Be prepared to cover the use of keyboard trays and monitor arms as well if they are used at your facilities.

Coaching

Getting people to advance to the point where they are standing anywhere from eight to 24 times a day is something that needs to be worked up to for the majority of people. Users need to start and advance at their own pace. Some may not have the leg muscle strength to support their body weight standing in a static position for very long. Others may need to be coached to take sitting breaks.

Research has shown that for behavior change to be the most effective and sustainable it should contain these components: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Yes, like objectives, they should be SMART.

I would also say that the person having some control over their goals and plan is key. You can guide them, but there seems to be more commitment when the pace and goals come from them. I came to terms with the fact that some people may stand twice a day for no more than ten minutes, not counting bathroom breaks. The more people feel the results, then the more apt they are to increase their goals.

Here is a short list to build upon when coaching people to adopt a sit/stand lifestyle:

Specific, measurable goals

  • How long can you commit to standing* each work day?
  • How many different times are you willing to stand*?
  • Why do you want to do this? What do you think you will gain?

*For some this may be sit.

Reviewing goals to make sure they are achievable and time-based

  • Are these goals realistic to how you work?
  • Ultimately, what would you like to work up to?
  • Can you commit to following this plan for four weeks?
  • Are you willing to review your progress in four weeks?

Tools

Employees with the best of intentions can still forget to use their desks when they get caught up in what they are doing. The goal is to make sitting and standing throughout the day part of their daily routine.

For the last four years I have worked with a couple of companies on tools that help remind users to change positions. I highly recommend some intervention to help remind people about their commitment. SitStandCOACH software allows users can set reminders and track their progress. Even if they just use a basic alarm setting it will help to have the awareness there during the day.

The best mix of sitting and standing is one that is realistic for the user to follow and maintain, based on their schedule, job, body condition and willingness to participate in a lifestyle with more movement. Based on a review of studies, Dr Alan Hedge of Cornell University recommends that in every 30 minutes working in an office, people should sit for 20 minutes, stand for eight minutes and then move around and stretch for two minutes. He does not recommend standing for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Former director of NASA’s life sciences division, Joan Vernikos, recommends a natural lifestyle of constant, natural movement that resists the force of gravity. Her emphasis is not on the duration of the standing times, but rather the number of sit to stand adjustments. “Standing up often is what matters, not how long you remain standing,” she says. Specifically, she recommends the act of going from sitting to standing and back again between 30-35 times a day. For a typical workday that would be about 16 times or twice an hour.

Dr James Levine of the Mayo Clinic says, “Do not sit longer than 60 minutes at a time. Try and get up every hour and move around (walk) for ten minutes.” And in a study of Australian office workers, Taleb A Alkhajah and colleagues showed that users prefer 15 minutes of sitting alternated with five minutes of standing. It must be borne in mind that these participants were public health researchers and they might have been motivated to use these tables more frequently than average office workers.

You might not get the enthusiastic response of public health researchers and you can’t expect the blind obedience of a well-trained Labrador retriever, but by combining education, training and tools you can expect successful results from a well-run sit/stand program.

Ann Hall has degrees in marketing and management, holds a certification in ergonomics management and is a certified corporate wellness specialist. She has joined Efficiency Software in the testing and promotion of software solutions that target increased wellness and productivity at work.

Currently she is working with Professor Mark Benden from Texas A&M on a study that will look at sit/stand desk usage rates and the effects of training and interventions on their use.

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